How We'll Know When Andrew Bynum Is Back to Full Strength with Sixers

Zachary Arthur@Zach_ArthurSLCCorrespondent IIFebruary 8, 2013

The man is close to coming back
The man is close to coming backUSA TODAY Sports

Believe it or not—and trust me, I'm struggling to believe it myself—but it looks like Andrew Bynum will be making his return after the All-Star break. The big question then becomes, when will he truly be back to full strength for the 76ers" target="_blank">Philadelphia 76ers?

Bynum at 80 percent is still better than him not playing at all, so beggars can't be choosers, but can the Sixers really reach their full potential without a healthy Bynosaur? They realistically can't.

And yes, I just referred to Bynum as the Bynosaur.

The issue then becomes how can the Sixers know if he's actually at 100 percent?

There are a few ways to decide on that question.

The first comes down to his game. 

People need to be concerned about one aspect in particular, and that has to do with his conditioning. At 7' 0", 285 lbs, it'll naturally take longer for his body to adjust to getting into playing shape.

If you're reading this and have played in a competitive basketball game of any kind, then you probably know what Bynum is going through. When I say "competitive basketball game," I really mean any kind of game. From pick-up basketball to an organized league, playing in a game always seems harder and like a bigger workout than any kind of work out can provide.

Now, imagine that at the NBA level.

Unbelievably difficult.

Adjusting to the speed of the league's game can take players time to adjust to after the offseason, let alone after half of the regular season too.

The important thing to remember is that the rest of Bynum's game is dependent on his conditioning. You can't expect his help-side defense to always arrive on time, or his activity on the glass to be up-to-par if he can't breathe when he runs up and down the court.

The second step in his complete return to the court comes with his brain and personality.

For example, everybody and their mother will know that Bynum is at full strength if he's back to shooting three-pointers. The importance of doing something that he's not supposed to do can't be overlooked. It would mean that Bynum isn't thinking about if his knee is hurting or if he's running a play right, and focusing more on having fun on the court.

Try and think of another player in the past five years that has had more "questionable" on-the-court issues than Bynum. Chances are strong that you can only come up with Metta World Peace and that should tell you something. Very few people make the kinds of plays that these guys do.

A fun attitude and healthy mind means a healthy Bynum.

Last, but certainly not least, is that the Sixers need to be clicking personnel wise. Their players need to be playing as a collective unit and not as individual assets.

Philadelphia has gone through the entire season playing without a legitimate center. Believe it or not, but the adjustment is one of the hardest. The only tougher adjustment would be to get a great point guard back halfway through the season, but a center isn't far off. Getting Bynum back is like getting the anchor of your boat back.

Quite honestly, it's crucial.

The Sixers will need to primarily focus on defensive rotation and spacing. A seven-footer has a funny way of taking up more space than someone that's only 6'10". Philly needs to understand that they have a big man in the point now, so they should be able to pressure the ball more and risk somebody driving on them.

That's the beautiful thing about having a shot-blocker in the paint.

His return is coming soon, but it's going to be interesting to see if he ever gets completely healthy.

USA Today's Jason Wolf reported on Bynum's injury and that he still happens to be battling knee problems. Bynum has begun working out to get back, but his knees still look like they could come into play at the end of the season:

Bone bruises and damaged cartilage in his knees have prevented the one-time All-Star center from practicing or playing in a game since the Sixers acquired him from the Lakers in a four-team trade in August. He is an unrestricted free agent after the season.

"It's just in there," Bynum said about a piece of broken cartilage in his left knee, which is preventing the joint from moving smoothly. "We're trying to grind it up without creating a bone bruise. There's a fine line. Yeah, it catches. It used to catch in my right knee, but it broke off and grinded up, so I don't feel anything in my right knee. So we just hope this one does the same."

Bynum said his knees are supporting 75 percent to 80 percent of his body weight when he runs on an anti-gravity treadmill. His workouts are lasting upwards of three hours at a time and also feature work on an elliptical machine, weight training on his upper and lower body and "one-on-zero" basketball drills, which include shooting from largely stationary positions. Bynum said he still experiences pain in his left knee when jumping, moving laterally and squatting.

It looks like Bynum is thinking about his knees quite a bit. There's nothing wrong with thinking about an injury, but you don't want it all over your mind.

Philly needs Andrew Bynum back if they want to go as far as they are capable of.

We'll see if he's able to fully get there.